Jim and Mary Morgan—Building a “Super” Marriage


We began to suspect there was something out of the ordinary about the Morgans’ marriage the night Jim braved his way through the ward kitchen filled with sisters preparing the annual ward dinner to where his wife, Mary, was cutting cake in order to give her, not a peck-on-the-cheek kiss, but a really satisfying smack on her lips to let her know he had made it home from work in time for the big occasion. Those who were close to Mary had noted how her eyes had brightened at his arrival, as if sparklers had been lighted inside her.

Our suspicions were confirmed the Sunday morning that Jim made a special effort to find Mary as she stood outside the Relief Society room so he could wish her well on her Spiritual Living lesson. They glow when they look at each other, and they have been married for nearly eighteen years.

According to Harvey Ruben, M.D., “50 percent of all marriages end in divorce, 10 percent are really super marriages and the other 40 percent fall somewhere between ‘pretty good’ to ‘mediocre’ to ‘not so bad.’” He adds, “I’d like to be able to help those people in the middle areas to move up into the super category.

“A super marriage as I define it is a marriage based on trust, respect, deep romantic commitment, mature intimacy and equality.” (Sylvia Sachs, Deseret News, 29 June 1986, p. 25.)

Mary and Jim don’t seem to need help in making their marriage “super”: according to Dr. Ruben’s definition, they already have one. Jim admits that they have this envied relationship because they didn’t wait for a lifetime of marriage to get really acquainted. Jim explained, “We got to know each other extremely well before we ever got married and continue to get to know each other better and better. But only since joining the Church has the light of the gospel enabled us to see who the other really is. Our whole lives have gained meaning—and having meaning is different from just knowing each other. You can know each other and still not have meaning in life.”

Jim and Mary have some suggestions for building a super marriage. But to appreciate their philosophy, one must first know a little of the Morgans themselves. Dr. A. James Morgan is a psychiatrist and medical director of Behavioral Medicine at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, Utah. When he met Mary, he was thirty-eight years old and was the clinical director of the Community Mental Health Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Mary had a degree in nursing and was an aspiring editor for the Lippincott Publishing Company in the same city. Neither was a member of the Church.

The first time they saw each other was in the Pennsylvania hospital where Mary was admitted for some tests. A mutual friend, who wanted the two of them to meet, had sent Dr. Morgan to the hospital to see Mary. As she walked into her room, Jim was waiting for her. He held out his hand and said, “Hi! I’m Jim Morgan. I’m a shrink, but this is a social call.” Mary took an immediate liking to him and recalls thinking, “I love you! I love you!”

On their first date Jim told Mary everything about himself. The date required a lengthy drive to the suburbs, and all the way out and all the way back he managed to give her his philosophy of life. “If she’s going to marry me, she better know what I’m all about,” he had concluded.

Over the next few months they both had the chance to learn more of each other. Mary discovered that Jim was a gourmet cook, a musician, and an amateur artist. And Jim found that Mary was a terrific editor.

Lippincott Company needed a chapter on psychiatry for a textbook they were updating, and Mary suggested that Jim might be interested in writing it. Jim protested that he didn’t know how to write, but Mary reassured him. “Just write the way you talk, and you’ll be all right.” During the project, he’d call Mary up and read thirty or forty pages of text to her to get her reaction. “I began to realize that when you write, you reveal a lot about yourself,” Jim confessed. “This is like telling people your dreams. If they’re smart enough to pick up on it, they’ll know all about you.”

Finally, Jim handed Mary three hundred finished pages. After reading them, she diplomatically said, “You won’t need all of this; we’ll begin with page ninety. That’s where the crux of your material really starts.”

Jim couldn’t believe it. “She was editing large pieces of my life and throwing them away.” Still, he admired Mary’s keen editorial sense—and as a psychiatrist trained in observing people, he was also learning about Mary. “But in the process I managed to reveal a great deal about myself. I thought, ‘Well, that’s a pretty good basis for a relationship.’ She knew all the good and all the bad, all the noble things and all the ignoble things. She knew all about me, and I knew all about her, and we became very good friends.”

After they were married, they put their money together and for some years concentrated on restoring an 1837 home in Philadelphia, which Jim had purchased before their marriage. They were both successful in their professions and living life on the executive scale.

Eventually, though, they felt they were putting too much energy and money into the housing project, so they sold it and moved into a double apartment overlooking the Delaware River. They could see Independence Hall and all of Society Hill out of their thirty windows. It was a balcony view of life.

A trip to Hawaii prompted the next adjustment in life-style. They agreed that since they had simplified their lives by moving from the house to an apartment, why not simplify it further by moving to Hawaii where they could buy some property and grow vegetables year around? “Everything would be nifty,” they told themselves.

For two years they lived on the island of Oahu, in a cottage on the State Hospital grounds. Jim was in private psychiatric practice, and Mary gave up her profession to try being a housewife and amateur farmer.

She hated it. A phrase from the musical Chorus Line which says “I am my resumé‚” came to Mary’s mind again and again. “I am my business card,” she kept thinking. “I had no identity; I had no business card; I had no title. This was a tremendous loss of ego. This was what bothered me, that I didn’t have an identity without my profession. I didn’t know who I was; I didn’t feel useful; I had no purpose.”

Jim kept assuring her, “Don’t worry about it; just keep house.” But Mary continued to struggle for a sense of identity and self-esteem.

After two years on Oahu, an opportunity arose for Jim to go into private practice on the island of Hawaii. Coincidentally, Mary was offered a position as director of nursing at Kona hospital, and she gobbled up the opportunity to return to work. The work was extremely hard, but it took away her feeling of uselessness. She had a title again, she had her identity back, she had her business card. And this is what she was doing when the missionaries knocked on their front door and changed their lives completely.

Now that she is a Latter-day Saint, Mary recognizes that there is something very sad about people who feel that they have to have a title in order to feel successful. Take that away from them, and they don’t know who they are. “That’s what happened to me,” she recalls. “Your job should never be your identity. You are a child of God, and that is your true identity.” She was glad that she had this learning experience, however, because it was humbling.

Both Mary and Jim feel that they were inspired to move to Utah after their conversion. Jim is enthused with his work as director of behavioral medicine, and Mary is excited about her work as his wife. She says that “things are very different now. Once we joined the Church I started to take a look at our whole relationship. I pay much more attention to our marriage. We’re happier now than we ever were. Not that we were unhappy before, but it’s just so much better now. Although I have given up my profession again, I no longer feel the loss of identity.

“I prayed about what I should do—that I would be happy if I gave up my job. I always tried to be a good wife, but now I can devote myself to it with all its spiritual implications as well. I really am pleased that I don’t feel like a business card any longer. I feel that being Jim’s wife is enough. ‘Wife’ is not a title; it is a term of endearment. This may not be a popular point of view at the present time, but I enjoy so much having the time to do things with and for Jim.”

Jim feels that what was wrong with their marriage before they joined the Church “was the gender problem. We both believed in ‘equality’—that either sex should be able to do anything and everything, that there really should be no real difference between male and female.

“After we joined the Church, we discovered that it’s all right for the woman to have the babies and for the man to hold the priesthood, because you both share in all things as a companionship.

“We’re more thoughtful now, we’re more caring, and we enjoy each other more. We have more fun together, and our sense of humor is sharper. But most of all, we take this whole business of marriage seriously. We have to get this life right,” they say, “and it’s the task of the married couple to help each other to get it right.”

Jim and Mary radiate the gospel light and exude the love they have developed in their marriage. They are at times baffled by couples in the Church who seem not to have caught the significance of the gospel as the sanctifying force in marriage. Jim is concerned that too often couples don’t spend the time and energy to invite the Holy Ghost as part of their companionship. And without the Spirit, big decisions can result in big mistakes.

Jim and Mary had the advantage of knowing each other well before getting married, and since that time have taken the time to get to know each other even better. “But it is the added dimension of the gospel,” he explains, “that has made our marriage super. In small and large ways we feel the presence of the Lord in our lives. We do all the ordinary things: we kneel for morning prayer, we kneel for evening prayer, we bless the food, but in addition we both carry on a constant dialogue with God throughout the day. When I go out, Mary’s praying that what I do will go well, and I’m doing the same for her.”

For her part, Mary had always been independent. “I never wanted to be dependent on anyone, and I felt very strongly about that. This is the first time I have been dependent on anyone else and enjoyed it. I feel fulfilled. I suppose I’m surprised that I feel this way because I assumed that the way one got fulfilled was independently pursuing and achieving. I always knew that I would be successful. What I didn’t know was that I would find my success in another person, that my love for Jim would be the preparation for an eternal relationship.”

The trust that they have developed through years of talking, listening, and sharing enables them to be dependent, to be vulnerable to the other. Mary now uses her editing expertise to further “their” career. She edits all of Jim’s professional papers and he takes her on all of his business trips. The gospel has channeled their concerns into one harmonious flow.

Jim summed up their relationship: “It’s not that we are one person. We are still separate people and separate beings, but we’re so much more together than we ever could have been separately. I am so much more ‘me’ because of Mary, and vice versa. And it just gets better and better and better. It’s a joy to be together, an absolute joy. It becomes deeper and stronger, like the current of two streams channeled into one.”

The inspiration of watching Mary and Jim has jolted many of us who know them to reevaluate our own relationships. I don’t know how many of the Relief Society sisters will get kissed by their husbands in the kitchen at the next ward dinner, but there will be sparklers behind more than one pair of eyes if it happens.

[photo] Photography by Jed A. Clark

Virginia M. de Hart is a Relief Society teacher in her Springville, Utah, ward.